Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed on Wednesday to intensify the war on terror as mass funerals got underway a day after 148 people, most of them children, were
massacred by the Tehreek-e-Taliban at a military-run school
As the nation mourned, Sharif said all political parties had decided to draft a national action plan against terrorists within a week and act upon it immediately.
“We announce that there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and have resolved to continue the war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated,” the Prime Minister said, following an all-party meeting.
"We must not forget these scenes (at the Peshawar school)," Sharif said, "The way they left bullet holes in the bodies of innocent kids, the way they tore apart their faces with bullets."
The government declared a three-day mourning period as pallbearers gathered around coffins draped in flowers and prayer vigils were held across Pakistan with grieving families burying their children.
A combination of undated pictures provided by families shows some of the students of the Army Public School who were killed on Tuesday. (AP Photo)
“They finished in minutes what I had lived my whole life for, my son,” said labourer Akhtar Hussain, tears streaming down his face as he laid 14-year-old Fahad to rest. He said he had worked for years in Dubai to earn a livelihood for his children. “That innocent one is now gone in the grave, and I can't wait to join him, I can't live anymore.”
Sharif announced a six-year moratorium on the death penalty would be lifted for those convicted of terror offences, while the army chief travelled to Kabul for talks on improving intelligence cooperation.
Pakistan has about 800 people on death row who were tried as “terrorists”, according to Justice Project Pakistan, a Lahore-based rights organisation. Legal experts said about 70 convicted terrorists could be executed in the coming days if the government fast-tracked the process.
The Peshawar school was a scene of heart-wrenching devastation as media were allowed in for the first time. Torn notebooks, pieces of clothing and children's shoes were scattered about amid broken window glass, door frames, upturned chairs and pools of blood. A pair of child’s eyeglasses lay broken on the ground.
One wall was smashed where a suicide bomber blew himself up, blood splattered across it. His body parts were piled nearby on a white cloth. The air was thick with the smell of explosives and flesh.
Indian schoolchildren prepare lighted candles ahead of a vigil in Jalandhar as they pay tribute to slain Pakistani schoolchildren and staff after an attack on an army school in the restive city of Peshawar. (AFP Photo)
Taliban terrorists wearing military uniforms rigged with explosives ambushed the school on Tuesday and burst into an auditorium filled with students taking exams. Explosions and gunfire were heard inside the building several hours after the attack had started. Many of the attackers reportedly detonated suicide vests as security forces rushed to the scene.
Military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa told reporters the militants made their way to the hall’s stage and started shooting at random. As students tried to flee for the doors, they were gunned down. Security personnel recovered about 100 bodies from the auditorium alone, he said.
“This is not a human act,” Bajwa said. “This is a national tragedy.”
The attack was the deadliest slaughter of innocents in the country and horrified a nation already weary of unending terrorist assaults, prompting commentators to call for a tough military response.
Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif dashed to Kabul to seek action against Taliban leaders allegedly hiding in Afghanistan.
PM Sharif said he spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani late Tuesday to discuss how both countries could do more to fight terrorism. The two agreed to launch fresh operations on their respective sides of the border, he said, and pledged to "clean this region from terrorism".
Pakistan had in the past criticised Afghanistan for what it said was a failure to take action against militants on their side of the border, specifically faulting Kabul for allegedly not helping when Pakistan launched the North Waziristan operation in June.
Afghanistan has also repeatedly accused Pakistan of harbouring militants in its tribal regions.
But Bajwa, the army spokeperson, said that after the Peshawar massacre, Islamabad is "hoping that there will be a strong action, a corresponding action from the Afghanistan side, from across the border, in the coming days".
The Tehreek-e-Taliban said the attack was revenge for a military offensive against their safe havens in the northwest, along the border with Afghanistan, which began in June. Analysts said the school siege showed that even diminished, the militant group still could inflict horrific carnage.
A mother reacts with her injured son a day after the attack. (AFP photo)
The attack drew swift condemnation from around the world. President Barack Obama said the "terrorists have once again showed their depravity".
Pakistan's teenage Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai - herself a survivor of a Taliban shooting - said she was "heartbroken" by the bloodshed.
Even Taliban militants in neighbouring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic."
In India, which has long accused Pakistan of supporting anti-India guerrillas, schools observed on Wednesday two minutes of silence for the Peshawar victims at the urging of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who called the attack "a senseless act of unspeakable brutality".
Modi spoke to Sharif on the phone, offering “deepest condolences and all assistance”.
“India stands firmly with Pakistan in fight against terror. Told PM Sharif we are ready to provide all assistance during this hour of grief,” Modi tweeted.
(With agency inputs)